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Toronto lineup suggests indie crisis has affected quantity, but not quality

July 27, 2010 | 12:06 pm

The Toronto Film Festival lineup is always strong, and this year it somehow seems even stronger.

Among the notable movies the festival announced for its first batch of movies this morning are a number of historical dramas -- particularly Julian Schnabel's Palestinian period piece  "Miral," Robert Redford's John Wilkes Booth saga "The Conspirator" and John Madden's 1960s Nazi-hunting movie "The Debt" -- as well as a group of internationally set prestige films, including Mark Romanek's "Never Let Me Go," the Carey Mulligan-Andrew Garfield dystopian mood piece based on Kazuo Ishiguro's bestselling novel.

A stellar list of A-list American indie directors also bring their new films to the festival, including Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden's teenage dramedy "It's Kind of a Funny Story," John Cameron Mitchell's family drama "Rabbit Hole" and Darren Aronofsky's hybrid ballet-world/character drama/genre tale "Black Swan."

The first three are listed as world premieres, but Aronofsky's film is designated only as a North American premiere, which pretty much means you can assume that it will premiere at either Telluride or Venice just before (likely the latter, given that his 2008 hit "The Wrestler" did just that.) [UPDATE -- Venice of course announced 'Black Swan' as its opening-night film last week, so it's indeed going there.]

Toronto will also be the North American venue of first resort for a host of U.S. actors who've stepped behind the camera, including Ben Affleck (crime drama "The Town") and Emilio Estevez (comedy adventure "The Way"), while  Phillip Seymour Hoffman (directorial debut "Jack Goes Boating") will bring his film to Toronto as well.

A number of more broadly commercial movies will also world-premiere at the festival, including the Robert De Niro thriller "Stone" and the ensemble comedy (Rainn Wilson, Sarah Silverman, Michael C. Hall, Taraji P. Henson) "Peep World." And just because we like her work, we'll point to Susanne Bier's Danish drama "In a Better World," which world-premieres at the festival too. (You can see the latest list of Toronto titles here; about 50 have been announced so far.)

One of the big fall movies that definitely won't be heading north of the border: David Fincher's "The Social Network"; that movie is world-premiering at the New York Film Festival several weeks later.

A few titles that have been making the festival rounds this year will also make a stop in Toronto, including Alejandro González Iñárritu's "Biutiful," Derek Cianfrance's romantic drama "Blue Valentine," Rodrigo Cortés' indie thriller "Buried" and Woody Allen's "You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger."

It's worth noting that among all the top flight titles cited here,  almost all come in to the festival with U.S. distribution -- only "The Conspirator," "The Way," "Peep World" and "Biutiful" will be looking for a home. That's not, of course, a sign of a renaissance among specialty distributors, but it does highlight the travails in the world of independent financing. Essentially, if you didn't have a distributor on board before you tried to make your movie in the last past year or two, chances are your movie wouldn't get made. 

Overall, the list of top-tier films and directors also gives lie to the idea that the movie business can't produce noteworthy specialty pictures anymore -- though we suppose one can argue that, while fewer movies got made, the ones that did came from the upper echelon of directors and scripts.

Could that in turn mean that there will be more solid movies and far fewer duds at a world-class festival such as Toronto? Optimisim, it runs Canadian.

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Ben Affleck's "The Town." Credit: Claire Folger / Warner Bros.